Reger: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by JS Bach, Op. 81; Variations and Fugue on a Theme by GP Telemann, Op. 134

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Reger
LABELS: Warner
WORKS: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by JS Bach, Op. 81; Variations and Fugue on a Theme by GP Telemann, Op. 134
PERFORMER: Mark Latimer (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 2564-61718-2
Mark Latimer is certainly a gifted musician, equally at home in classical repertoire and jazz improvisation, and unafraid to take on some of the most difficult and gargantuan of piano works. Whether this brace of Reger variation sets is a fair representation of his current prowess is difficult to say. Though the CD is a new release, the actual recordings are ten years old, which makes one wonder where they’ve been in the interim. The performances are good, and it’s always a pleasure to hear these pieces played well, but they don’t prompt me to superlatives. Latimer certainly characterises the two works admirably – the Bach Variations imposingly architectural, the late Telemann set more of a brilliant patchwork of virtuosity. His playing in the Bach seems better tuned to the intimate and expressive variations than the bravura ones; it’s a thoughtful, perhaps rather small-scale reading. His whole approach to the Telemann Variations is more extrovert, taking their sometimes ferocious technical demands in his stride. Yet long before the end I found myself yearning for a greater differentiation of touch and dynamics: everything seems to proceed at a slightly percussive mezzo-forte, where one feels some occasional caressing of the keys and more sinuous phrasing would work wonders: it does for Jorge Bolet in his classic reading for Decca. It is also Latimer’s misfortune that his disc comes up against the direct competition of Marc-André Hamelin, whose superb Hyperion CD additionally couples the two variation sets with Reger’s Op. 20 Humoresques, and remains a secure first choice. Calum MacDonald

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